Priests, clergy, men and women religious share the witness that inspired their vocation

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Women religious keep vigil with a dying resident, praying together at her bedside, at the Little Sisters of the Poor St. Joseph’s Home in Palatine, Ill., in this 2016 photo. The Little Sisters of the Poor care for the elderly poor in assisted living facilities throughout the U.S. and frequently accompany the dying. CNS photo/courtesy Little Sisters of the Poor

In an increasingly secularized world where a sense of the transcendent is dimming, the presence of men and women who consecrate their lives to God is a reminder and a witness to the reality of life beyond our physical reality.

“They show the example of how to respond to the God who not only exists, but who loves and saves,” said Father Roger Landry, a priest of the Diocese of Fall River, Massachusetts who serves as chaplain of the Leonine Forum in New York City.

Father Landry, who is also a Vatican-designated missionary of mercy, said that faithful priests, men and women religious, deacons and others in consecrated life reflect God’s love through the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity.

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“I think priests likewise bring the gift of the sacraments to people while religious in particular put a face on the Church’s works of mercy through schools, through hospitals, through charitable endeavors and more,” Father Landry told Our Sunday Visitor.

By simply living their vocations well, the personal examples of faithful men and women in consecrated life can be models of faith and trust in God for the lay faithful, as well as the clergy and others in religious life.

Inspired by priests

“You can’t help but be inspired by them,” said Christopher Smith, a Jesuit in his sixth year of formation with the Society of Jesus.

Smith referred to two older Jesuit priests who greatly impacted his own spiritual life and discernment. He mentioned one older priest whom he worked with a couple of years ago at a parish in Richmond, Virginia. Though in his 60s, the priest learned to speak Spanish to serve the growing immigrant community.

“This man made every person that he met feel like they were the center of the universe,” Smith told Our Sunday Visitor. “He would ask you questions, and you knew that he cared.”

Smith mentioned the example of another older Jesuit priest with health problems who volunteered to be the pastor of a parish in a rough-and-tumble neighborhood in Kingston, Jamaica.

“It’s hot there, full of mosquitos. It’s rough, and there are gunshots that literally whiz by your head,” Smith said. “Yet this guy with all these issues, this old white guy from Boston, volunteered to go because that’s the kind of heart that he has, and he threw himself into it. Everyday he was down there, just kind of wandering around a neighborhood where police wouldn’t go into because they were scared. But he just wandered around, met people and introduced himself because that’s the kind of person that he is.”

Witness of the saints

Carmelite Father Nicholas Blackwell, the parochial vicar of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Middletown, New York, credits the example of two Carmelite saints with helping him to discern his vocation and inspiring his own faith journey.

“Teresa of Avila, I always talk about her as my big sister. She’s the one who got me into Carmel. And outside of the Holy Spirit, she is the one who’s keeping me in Carmel and strengthens me in Carmel,” Father Blackwell told Our Sunday Visitor.

Father Blackwell, who is also the assistant vocations director for the Carmelites’ North American Province of St. Elias, said he finds further inspiration in the life story of St. Nuno Álvares Pereira, a renowned 14th century Portuguese general who in later life became a Carmelite friar.

“He is someone who was willing to have his whole life turned upside down as he embraced the friar’s life of prayer,” Father Blackwell said. “He makes me very uncomfortable and challenges me.”

Apostolate of deacons

Kevin Gingras of southeastern Massachusetts, credited an older deacon who mentored him during his own formation in the permanent diaconate program for the Diocese of Fall River.

“He was phenomenal, helping me to be comfortable at baptisms, preaching, being at the altar. He even did a couple of practice runs at Mass in our church so I’d be comfortable,” said Gingras, who added that that deacon left his longterm parish assignment so Gingras could serve at that parish when he was ordained a deacon in 2019.

“He was willing to sacrifice that to better serve me when I started my ministry,” said Gingras, who also told Our Sunday Visitor that being a deacon provides him with unique opportunities to witness the Catholic faith at home, including being able to bless his daughter at bedtime.

Father Landry said permanent deacons have three “huge focuses” where their ministry impacts the world around them.

“The first is in their homes where they show that God is worth a tremendous commitment,” Father Landry said. “Deacons make not only a great commitment of their time but also of the talents that God has given them, and they want to use that precisely for God.”

In their workplaces, Father Landry said deacons carry out an apostolate that few people can since they are consecrated men who do not just proclaim that God is part of their lives, but have also made “huge commitments” to follow him through sacred ordination.

“Third, in parishes, it is a hugely important witness today for men to step forward and show an example, especially for the other men in the parish, of how to love God with all one’s mind, heart, soul and strength, concretely to love others through the charitable acts the diakonia ordains them to carry out,” Father Landry said.

Father Adam Park, vice-rector for seminary life at Rome’s Pontifical North American College, is pictured with new seminarians Aug. 29, 2019, during a coffee break from their Italian language lesson. CNS photo/Robert Duncan


Example of religious men, women

Meanwhile, Franciscan Father Matt Foley, who teaches morality and is involved with campus ministry at a Catholic high school near Buffalo, New York, told Our Sunday Visitor that the example of the Franciscan friars he knew in college inspired him to discern his own vocation in religious life.

“Really at the time when my faith became alive in college, I really credit (my vocation) to the examples and friendship of the friars,” Father Foley said. “I was so impressed with how different every one of them was, with their different personalities and temperaments. But the three things that they all had in common were a love of Christ in the Eucharist, a love of Christ in the poor and a love of Christ in community with each other. I found all that really attractive.”

Witnessing the joy and interior peace that the Little Sisters of the Poor had as they cared for the elderly-poor moved Sister Constance Veit as a teenager to delve deeper into her own Catholic faith and discover her own life’s calling.

“I was an average Catholic kid going to public school. I didn’t have the best or deepest catechesis or anything,” Sister Constance told Our Sunday Visitor. “But even at that age, just by intuition, I realized there had to be some connection between the fact that these sisters spent so much time in prayer and that they were so joyful and generous in caring for the poor. That led to me being fascinated to grow deeper in my faith.”

As a teenager, Sister Constance worked for the Little Sisters of the Poor, and joined the order shortly after she graduated from college in 1984.

Said Sister Constance: “I was fascinated in just seeing this continuity in their life between their prayer life, their going to Mass everyday, and the fact that they were always joyful. I just intuitively knew there had to be a connection in those two things.”

Brian Fraga is a contributing editor for Our Sunday Visitor

Brian Fraga

Brian Fraga writes from Massachusetts.